As the 2016 Japan trip slowly fading away into memories, I would like to make one final look back on my favorite places during the trip. Without further ado, in no real order, here are my favorite places that I would recommend if you’re visiting Japan.
One of the most unique destinations during the trip. I do not know any other places like this. The beautiful park is filled with hundreds of wild sika deer that freely roam around. Most are very tame and even “bow” to visitors for crackers, which you can buy throughout the park for about ¥100. The deer due have a tendency to swarm around you when you have food but it’s a bit funny to see people freak out.
While in the area, take your time to explore the park. Making your way to Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha will let you experience most of what Nara has to offer.
——Fushimi Inari Shrine
This place was magical. Dense rows of torii gates give this place a unique visual experience that are featured in hundreds of photos and your friends social media feeds. The seamlessly, endless torii gates follow wooded mountain trails; about 2-3 hours round trip to the top and back. Many people usually stop at the halfway point since the rest of the path up is pretty much the same. At the top, you will be greeted with a makeshift “you reached the top” sign but the journey up there that counts, right?
There are various street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs at the entrance after your short hike. One last thing, Fushimi Inari Shrine technically does not close so you can visit this place at night.
Although my time in Kyoto was short, Kiyomizudera is a must if you’re in the area for any length of period. Accessible by bus, Kiyomizudera features a lovely and atmospheric neighborhood, along Matsubara Dori, that is filled with shops and restaurants on the way up to the temple. The main attraction here is the famous wooden patio that offers a nice view of the courtyard. Directly across and a short walk from the patio is a trail that offers the photogenic shot of the Kiyomizudera raised patio.
In addition, the sight of seeing women dress up in kimonos really adds to the charm to the place; the main reason I like Kyoto so much.
——Arashiyama Bamboo Groove
One of my anticipated stop in Kyoto was the bamboo grove at Arashiyama in Western Kyoto. Walking through the columns of bamboo was enchanting; like walking through a scene of a romanticized kung fu movie. Another good thing about this place is that it’s quite a short visit so you can move on to other sights in Arashiyama.
Stop by Monkey Park Iwatayama where there’s free roaming since you’re in the area. And if you’re a caffeine addict like me, % Arabica has a shop here looking at the the Katsura River. Truly beautiful.
Glad I decided to come here after dinner at Chojiro for a few drinks. Welcoming and entertaining during my visit, I planned for one drink before reuniting with friends but stayed for two. If you’re looking for cheap beers, this is not the place; although they do serve beers. Cocktails are what they do here and Chris, the owner, is proud of it. Order the Smokey Old Fashioned if you’re looking for a bit of a show. I personally look forward to returning here.
Never planned to visit this castle until I made a trip to see Osaka castle and saw the stop at Himeji on the bullet train; I figure, why not? I must say that the approach to Himeji castle from the train station was the best part for me. Truly awe inspiring to see the castle tower over the city like a sentinel giant in the distant.
This is an extensive complex that can be a time sink if you’re into exploring all the nooks and crannies; there’s an adjacent garden, Kokoen, that you can visit for an additional ¥40 when you purchase the ticket, ¥1000, to enter the main castle complex and keep.
——Lilo Coffee Roasters
I picked this place as my #1 coffee shop in Japan during my 2016 visit. The full list of my favorite coffee in Japan is here. In short, they have a wide variety of beans – even a chart to help you pick one – and full menu of beverages and food with excellent service.
My #1 ramen joint, even beating the famous Rokurinsha. I posted a more in-depth list of my favorite ramens here. For the short version, Fuunji specializes in tsukemen that very rich in flavors that explode in your mouth. In addition, the chef serves every ramen with a smile and flare.
——Shinjuku Gyoen Garden
There are tons of parks and gardens in Tokyo but Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is one of the largest with many different themes so there something for everyone, even featuring a greenhouse – although it was closed when I visited. A popular spot during cherry blossom seasons – late March to early April – with hundreds of people gather in the park for photos and picnics.
The garden closes at 4:30 pm.
——Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten
Most will point towards Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi at Tsukiji for the sushi loving tourist – without losing your wallet – but the lines there are very long and requires waking up at the crack of dawn. Umegaoka makes a great alternative with tourist friendly menu but expect to wait an hour at any of their many locations. The crab roe salad was delicious, by the way, and usually comes with a set; highly recommend trying that.
I went light on sushi this trip but I had to try this place due to Tripadvisor’s ratings. This is a secluded joint that caters mostly to locals with occasional foreigners . As such, there is no menu but the owner does speak English. I went with the sushi set that came with miso soup and pickled vegetables for ¥1500. I want to try their lunch chirashi bowl next time. I would recommend this place if you’re looking for a more local feel.
——Hitachino Brewing Lab
The best brewery in Japan – according to me. There’s actually some substance to that claim as Hitachino has won many international awards for their beers, especially the famous White Ale. The beers are quite pricy, ¥700 a glass, but I think this is a good stop if you’re in Akihabara. I really like their White Ale and Nipponia.